Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sïonan Barrett responds to criticism over recent SGA spending

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Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

Recent spending by the Student Government Association on its Women’s Leadership Conference has sparked discussion over whether such expenses are necessary.

The SGA spent nearly $8,300 on breakfast and lunch meals for attendees of the conference, according to University of Massachusetts Auxiliary Enterprises invoices obtained by the Collegian. The spending was initially reported by The College Fix, and later picked up by the Tab UMass.

Both stories, which were written by UMass students, questioned the spending. But SGA president Sïonan Barrett responded to the concerns in an interview with the Daily Collegian, saying the stories were misrepresentative of the Conference’s expenses.

“We put on a very expensive conference for a very inexpensive cost,” she said.

The event was organized by the Women’s Caucus of the SGA, featured a keynote speaker and provided workshops on topics such as salary negotiation, the gender wage gap and leadership styles for women, and was held Sunday Nov. 15.

The SGA spent $3,152.40 on breakfast costs for the event, including a traditional continental breakfast which cost $8.95 per person, and a crepe station which cost $3.95 per person. The organization also spent $5,180.20 on a hot buffet lunch for attendees, which cost $21.95 per person.

Barrett said that the SGA was required to feed attendees because of the length of the seven-hour event. She also said they could not hire outside services for catering.

“If you put on an event on campus you have to get UMass catering,” the senior journalism major said. “It’s not the most cost-effective option.”

She said the SGA chose the least-expensive meal option available.

The SGA initially ordered food catering for 200 people, which was the amount of attendees registered for the event on its Campus Pulse page. Barrett said the SGA updated its catering request from 200 to 175 people “a few days” before the conference.

The invoices for the catering request, dated Nov. 13, listed food requests for 200 people. Barrett said just over 100 people attended the Conference.

She also noted the Conference’s only other expense besides catering was on the keynote speaker, Angela Lussier, who graduated from UMass. Barrett said the SGA negotiated the speaker price down from $7,500 to $4,000.

According to the College Fix’s Nicholas Pappas, who is also a columnist for the Daily Collegian, Barrett initially said the invoice figures were “off” by a few thousand dollars. But when reached by phone Sunday, Barrett said she didn’t realize there was 18 percent service fee added to the charges, thus bringing the total catering expenses to $8,300.

Barrett added that she focused her responsibilities in organizing the Conference on marketing the event to alumni, and did not directly deal with ordering the food or managing the budget.

Both reports framed the SGA’s spending on food in comparison to recent tuition hikes and additional fee increases for UMass students in advance of the 2015 school year. The Tab questioned whether this was an appropriate amount to spend for this purpose.

Barrett said the catering budget was unanimously passed by the SGA’s Coordinating Council, which passes certain budgetary motions and consists of roughly 15 to 20 people, in August.

She added that these types of conference’s typically cost between $15,000 and $20,000. This year’s Women’s Leadership Conference cost roughly $12,300.

Barrett said she believes it was a “really good” conference.

“It’s not like people just came for the food and left,” she said.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

12 Comments

12 Responses to “Sïonan Barrett responds to criticism over recent SGA spending”

  1. Please on November 30th, 2015 1:15 am

    Laughable lack of leadership

  2. Nick Pappas on November 30th, 2015 8:36 am

    So let me draw your attention to a few things that may need clarification:

    The per-person costs you quote in the 6th paragraph were for 200. As you mention further down only 100 came, so you can go ahead and double each of those figures for the real per-person cost.

    If the order was brought down to 175 orders, why was the SGA billed for 200? Was this invoice that we all have never paid after all? Was a new one created? It’s my understanding SGA is paying for the 200 meals.

    Now, as I had commented to the Collegian last night, “The defense I’m hearing from the SGA is that spending this much is normal, or less than normal. Even if that’s true, it’s an absurd defense. If blasting this much money away is normal, that should concern students even more than this one instance. I’ll leave it to SGA members and their constitutions on how to move forward.”

    Have a nice day.

  3. The Wander on November 30th, 2015 1:31 pm

    I am also curious about the expenditures of the SGA concerning a conference in Las Vagas held earlier this semester, as well as a DC trip they took in October.

  4. Tough Sell on November 30th, 2015 2:53 pm

    I think there should be an official audit of the SGA and hearings by the ethics subcommittee

  5. Kendall Tate on November 30th, 2015 3:39 pm

    Hello commenters: SGA hosts bi-monthly Town Hall meetings (the next one is today at 5 in our office, 420 Student Union) which I strongly encourage you to attend if you have questions or concerns about our spending or any other matter. We’re here to serve YOU, and would love to have a conversation about this with anyone interested in the matter! If this time doesn’t work for you, but you’d like to talk with us, please email us to set up a meeting (http://www.umass.edu/sga/connect) with us. Again, we’re happy to talk about any questions you may have, but I think we can all agree that the most productive solution would come from meeting in person.

  6. Rob on November 30th, 2015 7:09 pm

    That’s funny. $8k for 100 people. Great use of tax dollars.

  7. Spartacus on November 30th, 2015 7:23 pm

    Beyond the fact that they had half as many attendees as they claimed they would receive and planned for, beyond the fact that their speaker cost more than many other events’ entire budget, this event used money set aside for RSOs in need. The SGA is not an RSO by any definition and the Judiciary should be hearing a case against the SGA’s use of funds, too bad they’re on the SGA payroll.

  8. Zac Bears on December 1st, 2015 12:15 am

    I love all of the people who think tax dollars fund UMass. Most of this money is from student fees. Very little of the UMass budget comes from the state.

  9. Rob on December 1st, 2015 7:09 am

    Zac, more than 20% of the UMass budget comes from taxpayers. And when you spend it frivolously, you should understand why taxpayers are upset. If you can come up with it on your own, feel free to waste it. And in real dollars, that 20% is a lot of money.

  10. Bilbo Baggins on December 1st, 2015 9:10 am

    Yes the money comes from student fees, but that is still money that is paid for by the students. It would be more appropriately spent on other student organizations. I also want to draw attention to a $30,000 office “renovation” under President Broughton that did little more than get some new cubicles and office chairs.

  11. Kris on December 1st, 2015 10:31 am

    UMass is about 18% funded by taxes. That’s not “very little.”

  12. The One Who Pays Attention on December 1st, 2015 12:02 pm

    Spartacus, if you honestly think that this needs to be brought in front of the Judiciary, do it. Any student who pays the students activities fee is free to file a petition. Below is a link that will get you to the bylaws that can instruct you on how to do so. Before you justify your lack of action saying that the Judiciary is in the pocket of SGA, you’ll be extremely hard pressed to find any proof that the Judiciary is incapable of doing its job. Or, by all means, prove me wrong.

    For the bylaws: http://www.umass.edu/sga/organization
    Judiciary email: [email protected]

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